Karen of Keeping Secrets gave me a Sisterhood Award. Thanks, Karen!
It’s awesome to know Karen. She’s a beautiful person and beautiful poet. Karen has a powerful poem at her blog about book burning, a subject that sends me into a tailspin.
Joaquin Carvel is another wonderful poet I have met here. Joaquin and Karen have both given me a challenge. They ask that I list the 25 writers or poets who have influenced me the most.
I’ve enjoyed reading all the poetry and fiction lists I’ve seen in Blogland lately. It’s interesting how each list I’ve seen is truly unique to the person who made it.
When I first started making my own list, it quickly escalated into the hundreds, from ancient times to today. What a challenge to give to a nerdy reader!
I think I was just naming all of the people whose work I love, including people I have met here. In order to keep the list to a minimum, I decided to give it three criteria:
1. Everyone on the list influenced me in my “formative” years.
2. I can literally see the influence in my own work.
3. I’m listing them in order of their appearance in my life.
God – The Bible (King James Version) – Though beautifully written, I don’t think of the bible as “literature.” For me, it’s God’s holy word. But I do see the influence in my work, often in my phrasing (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not). I also see it in theme, especially in Jesus’ compassion for outcasts in society and rage against hypocrites. I started reading it when I was five-years-old and still do so today.
Ken Kesey- One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – It might seem odd to follow the bible with the Cuckoo’s Nest. But it makes perfect sense to me. The men in the institution are outcasts of society. Many of them are bound by their own chains. The society in which they live is oppressive and hypocritical. The main character in the book is a sort of “savior” figure for them. I found a copy of this book on the side of the road when I was eight. My poor mother would have been shocked to know I was reading it. But even at eight, I saw the beauty in this book and still do. I continue to read it at least twice a year.
Flannery O’Connor – The queen of fiction. I bow down. I wish she were still alive, so I could stalk her. Just kidding about the stalking. But I know I would go to the ends of the earth to hear her speak. I study her mechanics, the way she so carefully places each word. I take apart her sentences and stare at them. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never figure them out completely. There has never been another writer like Flannery O’Connor.
T.S. Eliot – I bought my first book of Eliot’s poems when I was still in grade school. I didn’t understand it, but I was drawn to the phrasing and imagery. Since then, I study it almost daily. Critics be damned. The theory of the objective correlative IS poetry.
Nikki Giovanni – My junior high favorite. Reading Giovanni was the first time I realized the importance of voice. I still love her, of course.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Another favorite poet of my youth (and today). I can’t remember the year, but I think I was in junior high school when I found the poem, Underwear. It was printed on a purple mimeograph copy and folded inside a book on a back shelf in a small town library. I got kicked out of the library for laughing. Okay, I know it’s deeper than that. But believe me, if you want to turn on a kid to poetry, bring along a copy of Underwear. A few months later, I found more of his work at a second hand store.
Steinbeck (in particular, The Grapes of Wrath) – It changed my life.
J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in The Rye) - Why, of course. I was fifteen and full of angst and anger at all the phonies in the world. I still find it to be an amazing book. The phonies still make me mad.
William Faulkner – Everything he has ever written. The king of fiction. I read that he had a friend named Mr. Buffaloe. Unfortunately, I’m no relation.
Joyce Carol Oates – I discovered her work in high school and have never put it down. An amazing writer.
Carson McCullers - Outcasts. Southern Gothic. Need I say more? I’m jealous that she wrote The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter when she was 23.
Eudora Welty – Another excellent writer. I love to read her after I read Flannery O’Connor and compare the two styles.
James Baldwin – Simply amazing. Everything he has ever written. I can’t do him justice here, so I will just bow.
Doris Betts – Her voice has a powerful pull on my heart.
Fred Chappell – One of my favorite Carolina writers. His poetry and fiction are equally breathtaking. I Am One Of You Forever is one of my all time favorite books. After I wrote my first novel, I soon realized that half of it was a poor imitation of Fred Chappell.
Kell Robertson – An amazing poet. My hero. Kell Robertson was the first poet I ever read who wrote poetry about rural themes in a vernacular that felt like my own. I connect with his themes of lost American landscape. But my love for his work goes deeper than that. I could go on for five hundred pages about how great Kell is. If you look at the links on the right, I have a post about his newest book, The Goofy Goddess On The Wall. Or you can read a sample of Kell’s poetry HERE.
Charles Fort – My first real life mentor and teacher who is also a dear friend. Charles Fort is the master of the prose poem, but his work encompasses a wide range of styles and themes. He is also the first person to introduce me to the world of poetry readings. Charles Fort’s work is powerful, yet lyrical and beautiful in voice and structure. You can read his bio HERE. Click on “Selection” to read some sample poems. He was a wonderful, lively teacher and a master poet.
Howard McCord – The documentary about Howard McCord’s life, The Tao of Poetry, says it all. He is another amazing teacher and poet. A master. Though some call him an American Badass, I will always remember him as a sweet, gentle man who had endless patience with younger poets. Check him out HERE.
Keith Wilson - I did not “know” Keith Wilson personally, but I was fortunate enough to take a class with him. I am so sad that he has passed away. His work is beautiful and powerful. Check it out HERE.
Art Coelho – Art Coelho is a master poet, fiction writer, and artist. He’s another dear friend I love. I stand in awe of his work. Art’s writing spans many forms, and he is also another master of the prose poem. (Art, if you’re reading this, please forgive me if I embarrass you by slobbering. I can’t help myself). From April 11 through June 27, you can check out his artwork at the Boston Public Library’s Portugese-American exhibit, Twice Removed. His excellent poetry is also in the current (spring ’09) issue of Prairie Schooner. This list wouldn’t have been complete without Art.
Joy Harjo – Her work is so beautiful; she makes me cry. I cannot even describe what it has done for me throughout the years. Check her out HERE.
Alice Walker – Beautiful Alice. I met her work when I was going through a difficult time, and she made me realize that difficult is a relative term.
Bukowski - I love his lines, his themes, his phrasing. Why, of course. Buk’s the man.
Edward Gaines – Amazing. I have lost many nights of sleep by staying up to read his work.
Anne Sexton – I had read a lot of Plath and other “confessional” poets, but I felt a big connection with Sexton’s work during my college years. I still love it.
Martin Jack Rosenblum (especially The Holy Ranger: Harley Davidson Poems). - Freaking Amazing. The book is actually licensed by the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Check it out HERE.
Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel- The queen of poetry. Art Coelho turned me on to her work, and I am still trying to catch my breath. You can read her HERE.
Did you notice I cheated? I couldn’t quite keep it down to 25. Sorry!
I know I’m going to kick myself after I post this, because I have at least twenty more people I would like to list. My early years would also have to include a lot of classic poets, children’s literature, and Mark Twain.
When I say I literally see these influences in my work, I don’t mean that I will ever be as great as any of them are. I’m hoping that someday, I can take what they have taught me and shape it into something that is completely mine.
Please feel free to comment or leave your list in the comments section. If you do one at your own site, let us know.
Thanks for the interesting challenge, Karen and Joaquin!